Spokane County’s apartment vacancy rate has dropped to a historic low, a symptom of an ongoing housing crisis worsened by the pandemic that is impacting renters in most counties across the state.
According to the University of Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research, Spokane County’s vacancy rate for apartments is .5%. Several other growing Eastern Washington counties, such as Yakima, Benton and Franklin Counties also had vacancy rates below 1%. King County’s vacancy rate was actually higher than usual, with about 7.1% of apartments being vacant in the spring apartment assessment.
James Young, the Director of the Washington Center for Real Estate Research, said these vacancy numbers are alarming,
“A vacancy rate of 5% is considered a normal healthy market. Anything under 5% is considered somewhat tight, anything under 3 is considered a severe shortage of rental housing. Anything under is pretty much build, you’ve got some serious issues coming. Under 1%, is just, to consistently be low, like you have in Spokane for a long time, it just speaks to the magnitude of the problem.”
Young said there are several factors contributing to the low vacancies. People from places like the Bay area and the Seattle area are moving into communities like Spokane and the Tri-Cities, which can create a chain affect forcing people who may have had the finances to become first time homeowners to continue to rent. He said housing supply has also been an ongoing issue for every type of housing for years. He said the eviction moratorium likely has also had an impact, making it harder for people to move between apartments.
“It’s been a persistent constant trend that has only become worse since COVID. Housing supply issues are the biggest problem that any city in the state of Washington faces.”
Ben Stuckart, Executive Director of the Spokane Low-Income Housing Consortium said the low vacancy rate, and high rents that follow, will hurt the state’s low-income residents the most, even those who have housing vouchers from the Federal Government.
“Vouchers can be used in subsidized housing, or market rate housing, but when the market is squeezed so much, people don’t want to accept vouchers, so even people with vouchers are having a hard time finding housing.”
He said the lack of housing supply has taken away the few options that people with housing vouchers, an eviction, criminal record or credit issue have to obtain an apartment.
Stuckart has called on the city of Spokane leaders to declare a Housing State of Emergency, and for the city to allow more flexible options. Both he and Young say more housing needs to be built at all levels.